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Afghanistan : Country Review
Afghanistan is a landlocked, mountainous country in south Asia. Its strategic position sandwiched between the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent along the ancient "Silk Route" means that Afghanistan has long been fought over despite its rugged terrain. It was at the center of the so-called "Great Game" in the 19th century when Imperial Russia and the British Empire in India vied for influence. It won independence from British control in 1919. A military coup in 1973 abolished the monarchy, and the country became a republic.
Afghanistan became a key Cold War battleground after the Soviet troops invaded in 1979 to support a pro-communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, but a series of subsequent civil wars saw Afghanistan finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban which was in control of about 90 percent of the country until late 2001.
Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. and its partners in the anti-terrorist coalition launched air strikes against Afghanistan in October 2001 after Taliban refuse to hand over Osama bin Laden who was held responsible for the September 11 attacks. The Taliban regime was toppled, and Afghan factions opposed to the Taliban met at a United Nations-sponsored conference in Bonn, Germany in December 2001 and agreed to restore stability and governance to Afghanistan--creating an interim government and establishing a process to move toward a permanent government.
Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan in December 2004; he won a second term as president controversial elections in late 2009. The second Karzai term was characterized by fractious relations with the United States, which was leading the charge to keep Afghanistan safe. Controversial elections followed in 2014 and ended in contested results, and with the two contenders -- Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah -- at odds. United States Secretary of State John Kerry was hailed as a hero in Afghanistan for brokering a unity government agreement, with Ghani as the president and Abdulllah as chief executive, and rescuing the country from a slide into political chaos.
More than two decades of conflict destroyed much of Afghanistan’s limited infrastructure and disrupted normal patterns of economic activity. Although the country’s economic outlook has improved significantly and is showing strong signs of recovery since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The economy is highly dependent on foreign aid and agriculture, which is extremely vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, especially drought.
Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability - particularly in the south and the east - remain serious challenges for the Afghan government. United States-led NATO forces have been operating in Afghanistan with a eye on staving off the threat posed by militant Jihadist extremists from the Taliban and al-Qaida, who have been responsible for acts of terrorism, including the 2001 attacks in the United States.
President Barack Obama's blueprint for the exit of United States troops in Afghanistan called for the withdrawal of the majority of troops at the end of 2014, but left in place 9,800 troops in that country through 2015, when over the course of that year, the number would be reduced by half to 4,900. The remaining troops would then be withdrawn in 2016.
It should be noted that while liberals in the United States were frustrated that a complete exit from Afghanistan -- and an end to a war that had been ongoing for more than a decade -- did not come at the end of 2014, some Republicans in Congress criticized President Obama's exit schedule from Afghanistan. For conservatives, such as Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, issuing a date-certain deadline was tantamount to surrender. The three Republicans issued a statement that read as follows: "The president's decision to set an arbitrary date for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy." But President Obama was vociferous in his stance that the engagement of United States military forces in Afghanistan was coming to an end, and the specific mission in Afghanistan was on the verge of being completed. According to the United States president, it was time for Afghans to take responsibility for their country. As noted by President Obama in his drawdown announcement from the White House's Rose Garden, "We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one."
President Obama made clear that significant progress had been made in the years since the 2001 terror attacks -- a time when Afghanistan was the locus of the terrorist Islamist group, al-Qaida. Indeed, United States military forces since that time have carried out a relentless assault on the terrorist group, eliminating its leadership, and preventing Afghanistan from being used as a safe haven and a base for attacks against the United States. With the death of Osama bin Laden -- a perilous operation authorized by President Obama himself in 2011 -- the United States president could conceivably argue that the time to exit Afghanistan had come. However, the president was clearly looking towards a phased withdrawal, and one on a somewhat more protracted timeline than he had indicated in recent years. To this end, he said: "Now we're finishing the job we've started."
In October 2014, progress was being made in the effort to "finish the job" as United States and United Kingdom forces exited their main military bases in Helmand province, turning security over to Afghan forces. While the complete withdrawal of United States forces would not take place until 2016, a phased drawdown was certainly taking place. Meanwhile, this particular exit would mark the withdrawal of the last British combat forces from Afghanistan.
In November 2014, President Obama authorized United States troops to continue their combat operations against Taliban and other Islamist terrorist militants in Afghanistan, if they threatened either American forces or the Afghan government. The order also authorized the use of United States air support for Afghan combat missions. Moreover, the United States made clear that it would deploy an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to deal with the security threat if needed.
In March 2015, President Obama responded to a request by the newly-elected President Ghani for continued United States engagement in Afghanistan, under the aegis of a new bilateral security agreement, and with an adjusted withdrawal schedule. That new adjusted schedule would hold the current deployment of 9,800 troops in place in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, and would outline a new phased withdrawal schedule through 2016, with any remaining troops at the end of 2016 tasked with securing the Kabul embassy. In effect, the structure of the 2016 exit schedule would be maintained, but the pace of withdrawal was now changed, with most redeployment occuring in 2016.
The schedule, including the decision to keep in place a select number of combat troops through 2016, was due to the fact that President Obama wanted to see further training for Afghan security forces along with the ability to launch counterterrorism missions in the interests of maintaining the progress made in a war that had gone on for more than a dozen years and left more than 2,000 United States troops dead.
Since coming to power in Jan. 2017, President Donald Trump has maintained the presence of United States troops in Afghanistan and continued the effort against Islamist terrorists.
Note: To date, more than 2,000 American and approximately 450 British soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan that began in late 2001.
|Real Gross Domestic Product (LCU billions 2005 base)||464.891934||484.169342||496.070981||508.019290||523.260258|
|Real GDP Growth Rate (%)||-1.539511||4.146642||2.458156||2.408588||3.000076|
|Population, total (million)||31.279000||32.007000||33.400000||36.800000||36.867000|
|Inflation, GDP Deflator (%)||3.146758||2.454503||5.029551||6.101878||6.084965|
|Official Exchange Rate (LCU/$US)||55.821533||61.156189||67.925310||68.190539||69.737565|
|Total Foreign Exchange Reserves ($US billions)||7.528550||6.976966||7.281910||8.184437||8.942012|
Average Daily Temperature
|Annual Rainfall :||13.9"|
|Sunni Muslim||84.00 %|
|Shi`a Muslim||15.00 %|
|Other (including Zoroastrian, Jewish, Hindu, Baha'i and Christian)||1.00 %|